by Shaun Knittel -
SGN Staff Writer
On the heels of the historic health care reform victory, U.S. Senator Patty Murray joined a local coalition of small business owners to announce the formation of the Main Street Alliance of Washington on April 7 at Cupcake Royale in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Seattle.
Murray, flanked by local business owners Leanne Clarke, Jody Hall, Molly Moon, and Joe Fugere, said the Main Street Alliance of Washington would work to bring small business values into the public dialogue to advance policies that are good for small businesses, their employees, and the communities that sustain them.
The coalition says that too often, small businesses are "spoken for by corporate lobbyists who claim to represent us, but are really pushing a big business agenda." The driving force behind the coalition, according to officials, is to change that agenda by creating opportunities for small business owners to speak for themselves, face-to-face with decision-makers at public events and through the media.
Murray got involved because small business owners didn't feel they were getting represented the way they felt they deserved in Washington D.C. or in Olympia. During the national health care reform debate, a group of small business owners - who would later become the Main Street Alliance of Washington - had the ear of Senator Murray, who began to advocate on their behalf. Wednesday's announcement solidified her support for Main Street business owners in Washington state, she said.
Membership in the organization includes both small employers and self-employed business owners, with a diverse representation of business types, race, gender, and geography.
Main Street Alliance of Washington officials say their current priorities revolve around health care reform, the financial sector, jobs and restoring a customer base, immigration, and responsible budgets.
"The Main Street Alliance of Washington is a powerful new voice on small business issues at the state and federal level," the organization stated in a pamphlet that was handed out at the April 7 event. "We have worked to successfully pass policies that support small businesses including: national health care reform, state legislation allowing single-person business owners access to group health insurance rates, state legislation giving the insurance commissioner stronger authority to combat excessive rate-hikes, and a state pilot program to make quality health care affordable for small businesses with low-wage workers."
Now that the health reform package has passed, the Main Street Alliance of Washington says there are five need-to-know points:
Small Business Tax Credits: The bill includes tax credits that take effect immediately to help 3.6 million businesses afford health coverage. The credits will provide an estimated $40 billion in assistance to small businesses over 10 years to make coverage affordable. The credits are offered on a sliding scale to businesses with 25 or fewer employees and average wages under $50,000.
Employer Contributions: Businesses with fewer than 50 full-time employees will be exempt from any requirements to contribute toward employees' health coverage. An estimated 96% of all firms in America have fewer than 50 employees and would be exempt. Of those businesses with more than 50 employees, another 96% already offer health coverage. So, provisions to establish a level playing field starting in 2014 by requiring larger employers who do not offer coverage and whose workers receive tax credits in the exchanges to pay a fee will impact only a tiny fraction of employers.
Ending Insurance Discrimination: The final package prohibits insurance companies from denying coverage for pre-existing conditions, ends premium discrimination based on gender and health status, and eliminates lifetime and annual limits on coverage that threaten to bankrupt small business owners and employees. It also strengthens oversight of insurance premium increases, protecting small businesses from arbitrary and unreasonable rate hikes.
Health Insurance Exchanges: The bill will give small businesses better choices by setting up new, simplified marketplaces called insurance exchanges. Small businesses with up to 100 employees will be able to participate in the exchanges and pool together for coverage. Once operational in 2014, the exchanges will maximize small business bargaining power to negotiate better coverage, promote transparency and informed choice, and increase competition to lower rates.
Benefits for Self-Employed Business Owners: An estimated 21 million Americans are self-employed. The self-employed will be able to shop for health coverage in the insurance exchanges and benefit from the increased transparency and competition there. Experts have projected a savings of close to 20% for self-employed people in the exchange. Sliding scale premium affordability credits and caps on out-of-pocket costs will provide additional assistance and security for self-employed people and their families.
For more information about the Main Street Alliance of Washington, visit the organization online at www.mainstreetalliance.org/washington, e-mail the coalition at email@example.com, or call them at 206-805-6674.
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